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Editorial: Legislature Threatens Press Freedoms

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama Political Reporter has learned that the leadership of the Republican Super Majority is attempting to insert language into the rules of the State legislature that would give the leadership the power to deny press credentials to any members of the press… with a heavy emphasis on denying credentials to small businesses like internet web sites or independently produced news magazines.

The powerful corporate interests that financed the re-elections of the Republican Super Majority are, of course, afforded special privileges by the GOP legislators under this proposed rule; but even they could lose their press ‘privileges’ under provision of these rules which are both a controversial breach of tradition and a dangerous break with the Constitutional protection of freedom of the press which helped make this nation become great.

According to wording made available to the public by one State Representative, “A media representative shall be admitted to the floors of the House or Senate or allowed press privileges if the person is a salaried staff correspondent, reporter, or photographer employed by any of the following: a.) The news department of a federally licensed television or radio station, or the news department of a network providing coverage to television and radio stations, b.) A newspaper of general circulation providing print or online editions for the dissemination of news of a general character, which has a bona fide subscription list of paying subscribers, and has been established, printed, and published at regular intervals. c.) A wire service providing news service to newspapers, television, or radio stations as referred to above. d.) Internet news services and bloggers associated with any of the previously listed categories.”

In past generations, if you wanted to find a job, buy a house, or sell your car you went to your largest nearby newspaper and that is where you went to get your news.

In the modern world, people search the MLS for homes for sale, post their resumes online, and go to an auto trader to buy and sell cars and they get their news from social media and internet sources now rather than from their old hard copy weekly newspaper, or from some of the remaining three times a week publications in Alabama’s larger cities. Most of those internet news sources would be barred from the already largely empty press galleries of the State House that our tax dollars paid for.

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When the First Amendment was written, the press was filled almost entirely by independent operators in small towns across American with one or two employees and a small, lovingly cared for printing press. There were no large corporations that owned dozens of large newspapers across the country that sell canned news on canned websites with the help of wire services. Independent news sources like the Alabama Political Reporter are FAR closer to the opinionated journalists of Thomas Jefferson’s day than the giant holding companies who own dozens of TV and radio stations and legacy newspapers, most of which are not headquartered in Alabama.

We have tremendous respect for the job that our television colleagues do; but their nightly newscasts are only 30 minutes in length: 20 minutes total after commercials, and they have to divide that precious time between weather, national news, global events, movies, human interests, local sports, local violent crimes, entertainment news, missing children, abused dogs, their city council, and local events. They have little time left over for even cursory coverage of state politics and no time for the sort of in depth investigative reporting. Radio keeps you entertained for ten minutes during your daily commute. Hosts get paid to just keep talking nonstop for three to five hours each day and are woefully ill equipped for anything deeper than that.

For better or for worse, in a state the size of Alabama the heavy lifting in the journalistic field falls on us, the dedicated news sites, and it is ridiculous that Alabama’s supposed elected representatives are so openly hostile to the concept of a free and independent media.

Since the election, we have heard inane nonsense from Senate President Del Marsh about defining who a journalist is and now we have to deal with this:

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“Applicants seeking press credentials are required to submit documentation from their employer certifying that they are engaged primarily in reporting the sessions of the legislature.” Now reporters have to show Del Marsh and Mike Hubbard their papers? Is this Venezuela?

“The applicant must also certify that, with the exception of the Alabama Press Association and the Alabama Broadcasters Association, and the exception of receiving advertising revenue, they have no affiliation with any person, firm, corporation, association, or political party that attempts to influence legislative issues or lobby members of the Alabama Legislature.”

So, if a reporter’s wife works for the State as a teacher, does that constitute an affiliation with a person attempting to influence legislative issues? If a reporter goes to a church that opposes abortion, same sex marriage, or the State’s anti-immigration law, is that an “affiliation” that would bar a reporter from getting press credentials in the state of Alabama? So reporters can’t have “affiliations;” but multi-billion dollar corporations that lobby the state every day for special favors, regulatory reforms, and economic incentive packages CAN literally donate millions of dollars to the politicians that actually vote on legislation in Montgomery?

Where are there any ethics in that? Oh wait, we have a Speaker of the House (Rep. Mike Hubbard from Auburn) who has been indicted 23 times for criminal ethical misconduct, and will be easily reelected as Speaker today, so there really aren’t any ethics in Montgomery any more, if the legislature ever had any.

“Applicants unable to comply with the aforementioned certification requirement will not be issued legislative press credentials, but will still be free to cover sessions of the Alabama Legislature from the public galleries located on the sixth and eighth floors. Any person who is discovered to have misrepresented themselves to obtain legislative press credentials will have their credentials denied or revoked.”

O.K. Here we go again. The US Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;”

Threatening the press people who cover the legislature with revoking of their credentials would definitely count as making a law that abridges the freedom of the press. You don’t have to go to any high dollar law school to read and understand that, but protecting our Constitution and the liberties of the people of Alabama has NEVER been a strength, historically speaking, of the Alabama State Legislature.

I don’t think it is any deep secret that all this energy devoted to stripping the people of Alabama of one of their most cherished liberties is aimed squarely at the Alabama Political Reporter, but when politicians realize that they can walk all over anyone’s liberties they have a historical tendency to expand on their trampling of other people’s liberties.

All of this animosity aimed at the Alabama Political Reporter is due to our reporting what almost everybody (lobbyists, staff, and the legislators themselves) were telling us in hushed tones in hallways and corners all over the State House three years ago… they believed that the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives was breaking ethics laws on a routine basis. Some of those stories we could never substantiate, but evidence piled up that became impossible for us to ignore. We reported what we could substantiate. Investigators with the White Collar Crimes Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s office looked at what we wrote and began a lengthy investigation. That investigation has yielded almost two dozen indictments against the Speaker to this point.

I don’t know whether a jury will find Mike guilty of anything or not. It is not our job to convict Mike Hubbard in the court of public opinion. Our job is to report on what is happening in Alabama politics. If that is good news, like yesterday’s Polaris plant or Airbus, we will report on that. If that is shady dealings, like what got Speaker Hubbard indicted, we have to report on that, too, if we are to have any credibility with the public and so we can sleep soundly at night. If you don’t want to be investigated and indicted, do not conduct yourself in an unethical and possibly criminal manner.

Lashing out at the press and burning another section of the Constitution of the United States only adds to the national perception that Alabama is a corrupt state. As long as people perceive that this state government will not protect its peoples’ rights and that you have to “pay to play” in Alabama, we are going to continually lag behind other states in jobs, income, and opportunity.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

Alabama hospitals nearing COVID-19 summer surge levels

Wednesday was the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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UAB Chief of Hospital Medicine Dr. Kierstin Kennedy.

Alabama hospitals reported caring for 1,483 people infected with COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of patients since Aug. 11, when the state was enduring its summer surge. Wednesday was also the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19. 

The seven-day average of hospitalizations was 1,370 on Wednesday, the 36th straight day of that average rising. The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 2,453 new cases Wednesday. The 14-day average of new cases was — for the eighth day in a row — at a record high of 2,192. 

Across the country, more than 80,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Tuesday, a record high and the 15th straight day of record hospitalizations nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a coronavirus tracking website.

The CDC this week recommended people not travel for Thanksgiving to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

“The only way for us to successfully get through this pandemic is if we work together,” said Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a message Tuesday. “There’s no one subset of the community that’s going to be able to carry the weight of this pandemic and so we all have to take part in wearing our masks, keeping our distance, making sure that we’re washing our hands.” 

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Kennedy said the best way she can describe the current situation is “Russian Roulette.” 

“Not only in the form of, maybe you get it and you don’t get sick or maybe you get it and you end up in the ICU,” Kennedy said, “but if you do end up sick, are you going to get to the hospital at a time when we’ve got capacity, and we’ve got enough people to take care of you? And that is a scary thought.” 

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported an increase of 60 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. Deaths take time to confirm and the date a death is reported does not necessarily reflect the date on which the individual died. At least 23 of those deaths occurred in November, and 30 occurred in other months. Seven were undated. Data for the last two to three weeks are incomplete.

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As of Wednesday, at least 3,532 Alabamians have died of COVID-19, according to the Department of Public Health. During November, at least 195 people have died in Alabama from COVID-19. But ADPH is sure to add more to the month’s tally in the weeks to come as data becomes more complete.

ADPH on Wednesday announced a change that nearly doubled the department’s estimate of people who have recovered from COVID-19, bringing that figure up to 161,946. That change also alters APR’s estimates of how many cases are considered active.

ADPH’s Infectious Disease and Outbreak team “updated some parameters” in the department’s Alabama NEDSS Base Surveillance System, which resulted in the increase, the department said.

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Corruption

Judge reduces former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence

The trial court judge ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard was booked into jail to begin serving his four-year sentence for ethics violations in September. (VIA LEE COUNTY DETENTION CENTER)

Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker on Wednesday reduced former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence from four years to just more than two. 

Walker in his order filed Wednesday noted that Hubbard was sentenced to fours years on Aug. 9, 2016, after being convicted of 12 felony ethics charges for misusing his office for personal gain, but that on Aug. 27, 2018, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed convictions on five of those counts. The Alabama Supreme Court later struck down another count.

Hubbard’s attorneys on Sept. 18 filed a motion to revise his sentence, to which the state objected, according to court records, arguing that “Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency.”   

Walker in his order cited state code and wrote that the power of the courts to grant probation “is a matter of grace and lies entirely within the sound discretion of the trial court.” 

“Furthermore, the Court must consider the nature of the Defendant’s crimes. Acts of public corruption harm not just those directly involved, but harm society as a whole,” Walker wrote.

Walker ruled that because six of Hubbard’s original felony counts were later reversed, his entrance should be changed to reflect that, and ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months. 

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday said Walker’s decision to reduce Hubbard’s sentence was the wrong message to send.

“Mr. Hubbard was convicted of the intentional violation of Alabama’s ethics laws, the same laws he championed in the legislature only later to brazenly disregard for his personal enrichment,” Marshall said in a statement. “Even as he sits in state prison as a six-time felon, Mike Hubbard continues to deny any guilt or offer any remorse for his actions in violation of the law.  Reducing his original four-year sentence sends precisely the wrong message to would-be violators of Alabama’s ethics laws.”

Hubbard was booked into the Lee County Jail on Sept. 11, more than four years after his conviction. On Nov. 5 he was taken into custody by the Department of Corrections.

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News

Nick Saban tests positive for COVID-19, has “mild symptoms”

It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn.

Eddie Burkhalter

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University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban.

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Iron Bowl and has mild symptoms, according to a statement from the university on Wednesday. 

“This morning we received notification that Coach Saban tested positive for COVID-19,” said Dr. Jimmy Robinson and Jeff Allan, associate athletic director, in the statement. “He has very mild symptoms, so this test will not be categorized as a false positive. He will follow all appropriate guidelines and isolate at home.” 

Saban had previously tested positive before Alabama’s game against Georgia but was asymptomatic and subsequently tested negative three times, a sign that the positive test could have been a false positive. He returned to coach that game. 

It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn, given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for quarantining after testing positive and with symptoms. Neither Saban nor the university had spoken about that possibility as of Wednesday morning.

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National

Civil rights leader Bruce Boynton dies at 83

The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.

Brandon Moseley

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Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton

Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton died from cancer in a Montgomery hospital on Monday. He was 83. The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.

“We’ve lost a giant of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama. “Son of Amelia Boynton Robinson, Bruce Boynton was a Selma native whose refusal to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant led to the landmark SCOTUS decision in Boynton v. Virginia overturning racial segregation in public transportation, sparking the Freedom Rides and end of Jim Crow. Let us be inspired by his commitment to keep striving and working toward a more perfect union.”

Boynton attended Howard University Law School in Washington D.C. He was arrested in Richmond, Virginia, in his senior year of law school for refusing to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant. That arrest and conviction would be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Boynton and civil rights advocates prevailed in the landmark case 1060 Boynton vs. Virginia.

Boynton’s case was handled by famed civil rights era attorney Thurgood Marshal, who would go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1960 7-to-2 decision ruled that federal prohibitions barring segregation on interstate buses also applied to bus stations and other interstate travel facilities.

The decision inspired the “Freedom Rides” movement. Some Freedom Riders were attacked when they came to Alabama.

While Boynton received a high score on the Alabama Bar exam, the Alabama Bar prevented him from working in the state for years due to that 1958 trespassing conviction. Undeterred, Boynton worked in Tennessee during the years, bringing school desegregation lawsuits.

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Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said on social media: “NAACP LDF represented Bruce Boynton, who was an unplanned Freedom Rider (he simply wanted to buy a sandwich in a Va bus station stop & when denied was willing to sue & his case went to the SCOTUS) and later Bruce’s mother Amelia Boynton (in Selma after Bloody Sunday).”

His mother, Amelia Boynton, was an early organizer of the voting rights movement. During the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965, she was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She later co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum and annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. His father S.W. Boynton was also active in the Civil Rights Movement.

Bruce Boynton worked for several years at a Washington D.C. law firm but spent most of his long, illustrious legal career in Selma, Alabama, with a focus on civil rights cases. He was the first Black special prosecutor in Alabama history and at one point he represented Stokely Carmichael.

This year has seen the passing of a number of prominent Civil Rights Movement leaders, including Troy native Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

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